Press releases

Editorial consultants are a bit like economists: while there is broad agreement in the major areas, you’ll never get any two to agree on the details. So while most editors and journalists agree on the basic design and content for the ideal press release, the details are a different matter. The following is my own opinion.

Think of your press release as comprising four sections:

  • headline
  • summary paragraph
  • body
  • contact details

There is a fifth optional paragraph that goes between the body and the contact details. This is the ‘About’ paragraph: it gives a brief introduction to your company. I am ambivalent towards the About paragraph. Most of the time I never read it – but I have been known to collect such paragraphs into a private database. When researching a new story, a quick search in this database can give me a list of potentially relevant companies to contact.

Headline
The headline is the most important part of the press release. You’ve got about 3 or 4 seconds to get the editor interested. Cultivate a Haiku approach: you must say as much as possible in as few characters as possible. Include a few keywords that can indicate the subject of the press release: words like ‘security’, ‘risk management’, ‘virtualization’ and so on. Your target editor will scan the headline. If there’s nothing that immediately appeals to him, he probably won’t read any further.

Some consultants will advise you to put the headline all in uppercase. Don’t. Firstly it is visually unattractive. Secondly, the uniform height of capital letters makes it difficult to read. And thirdly, there will be editors who will wish to copy and paste your headline; and magazines never, ever, use all caps. UPPERCASE IS OFF-PUTTING; and in these Internet days it reeks of ‘shouting’. No-one likes to be shouted at.

Other consultants recommend a sub-headline beneath the main. Again, don’t. If the headline doesn’t work, then you’ve lost the editor. If it does work, why confuse the issue with a minor hook? Get straight on and land the fish.

Summary paragraph – the main hook
The summary paragraph is the most important part of the press release. You’ve got about 9 or 10 seconds to get the editor interested. If the editor is reading this, there is already a tentative interest. This is where you convert tentative into enthusiastic. This time think Twitter – give yourself 140 characters (absolute max, 200) to present the salient points that will make the editor want to know more; and read the full release to fill in the gaps in his/her knowledge.

Do not, I repeat do not, waste your characters on ridiculous hyperbole. Shun the temptation to describe your company as ‘the world’s leading’, ‘the market leading’, ‘the multiple award winning’… At the very least the editor will ignore it; at worst he has read it so many times that it becomes a complete turn-off. Here’s a selection received today:

  • the technology leader in…
  • the leading technology integrator…
  • a leader in service management and asset management solutions for IT professionals…
  • a leading manufacturer of world-class servers…
  • the leading provider of next-generation security platforms for high-performance networks…
  • developer of next generation…
  • the leading provider of secure…
  • the leading provider of…
  • the market leading, privately-held independent provider of…
  • the leading independent provider of enterprise security software…

The purpose of the hook is not to describe your company (do that in the body, or add an ‘About’ paragraph), but to get the editor interested in your news, in as few words as possible. Such phrases do nothing to interest the editor; they annoy said editor, and waste your character allowance for nothing.

The body
The body of the press release is the most important part of the press release. You’ve succeeded in interesting the editor – don’t blow it now. Think of this as a short story. Each comment must lead to the next. If it doesn’t, if there is a complete break mid-way, your reader may lose interest and move on to a better story.

Try to include one or two quotes from a senior executive, a product manager and/or a customer. Editors can weave these into the story as if they are talking to you: it saves time for everyone and ensures there is no misquotation.

But almost as important as the content is its presentation. Don’t make typos. That’s just sloppy. Don’t make grammatical errors. That’s ignorant. Editors make their living by their use of the written word. They become hyper-critical of its misuse. If they start dwelling on your errors, they’re not reading your story. You got them so far – but now you lose them. What a waste!

Contact details
The contact details are the most important part of the press release. If the editor is interested in using your story, he or she will probably contact you for more information or quotes. Some editors prefer to use the telephone, so make sure you include a phone number. Some editors prefer to do everything by email, so make sure you include an email address.

Do not hide behind your PR company. You may employ them to write and distribute your story; but they cannot answer an editor’s questions. So making the editor go through your agency to reach you is just another hoop, another barrier to prevent the use of your story. If you don’t want to talk to editors, don’t send them press releases.

Target the distribution
Firstly, and this is essential, find out whether individual recipients want hard copy or email news. Never mix them up. Go further: find out whether email recipients would prefer text or html messages; and again, never mix them up. In general, if you have to standardize, deliver your press releases by text email.

Secondly, there is no point in sending an announcement about your new NAS server to the editor of Your Pregnancy. Some consultants go further and tell you not to send PC information to a network magazine. Personally, this never worries me. Information is power, and provided that I receive it as an email, the cost of storage is so low and the speed of full text search retrieval now so fast that I’d rather have the information and keep and store it in case it might be useful to me at some time in the future.

But the fact remains that some editors will be annoyed at receiving press releases that are not specifically relevant – and you do not want to annoy the editors.

The ideal method is to use the various news wires coupled with direct distribution to editors you definitely know to be relevant.

Follow-up
Don’t. If there is one thing that editors hate, it is talking to salesmen. Salesmen talk to the advertising department, editors talk to the organ grinder. Don’t ever call an editor and ask if he has received your press release.

Finally
Use a professional writer to produce your press releases. Contact me: kevtownsend@googlemail.com.


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